I consider Dead Space to be the best game released in 2008. It was the next logical step up from the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4, introducing improvements like moving while aiming, deeper upgrading/progression, contextualized UI and a genuinely scary atmosphere. Dead Space essentially rendered Resident Evil 5 obsolete before it had even been released. Is the newly released sequel as good as its predecessor? Yes and no.
Dead Space 2 satisfies a lot of story beats better than the first game did. You may remember in DS1 that whenever you talked to another character, it would be over your comm or they would be across a gap/on the other side of glass/etc. from you. In DS2 you get much more face-to-face contact with the other characters and it helps the relationships between everyone feel much more connected. You also get to see Isaac’s face very often, which helps him seem more like a real person.
Speaking of Isaac, DS1 presented him as the classic silent protagonist. This was one of the largest mistakes that game made, as silent protagonists are an outdated mechanic. The idea of self-projection onto your in-game character doesn’t work outside of RPGs. In DS1, everything that happened never felt like it was happening to Isaac. The events of the game just happened around him and the characters talked at him.
But now, in DS2, Isaac has a voice and, along with that voice, a personality. He can actually respond to the people and events around him and he feels like a real character. You can see the effect of the first game’s events on him, which is something that would have been hard/impossible to do if he was an emotionless mute.
Isaac has one problem though: he’s overshadowed. There’s another character named Strauss who, like Isaac, is going insane. Strauss isn’t a particularly interesting character, but he is absolutely crazy and the game displays that rather well. Sadly, because we’re constantly being shown Isaac interacting with Strauss, Isaac comes off as fairly in-touch and normal. Sure, he hallucinates, but overall he seems to be able to function and understand what’s happening. I would have much preferred Strauss not to be in the game at all so that Isaac’s dementia would feel more pressing.
Still, Isaac is easily the strongest part of the DS2 story, as I never really felt like I understood what was going on in the game. In DS1, everything was very clear: you need to go to x deck to fix x problem before the ship falls apart and you die (also, there are monsters). In DS2, I’d find myself in a location and wouldn’t understand how I got there or why I needed to be there. A big contributor to this is how much more linear DS2 is compared to DS1.
These are all really minor problems, but I felt the need to mention them. Mechanically, DS2 is just as responsive and great-feeling as the first game. Aiming is easy, Isaac runs quicker than before, and attacks like the stomp are much faster and more effective. Another huge improvement in the movement/combat area is the weapons. In DS1, the Plasma Cutter was easily the best weapon in the game and everything else was just okay. The Line Gun was awesome and, if you put upgrades into it, so was the Force Gun, but nothing really beat the Plasma Cutter. Everything other than those three were just throwaways.
Rather than taking the easy way out and just making the Plasma Cutter less effective in DS2, Visceral decided to beef up the other guns to make them much more effective. Every single weapon (with the possible exception of the Flamethrower—it’s still worthless) actually feels useful. I often found myself with a very hard choice when it came to picking out which weapons to carry with me. The enemy design also encourages different weapons, as now there are several types of enemies that are fast and attack in large packs. The Plasma Cutter is somewhat useless for dealing with a swarm of dudes, so you’ll be trying out faster weapons like the Pulse Rifle or Ripper.
All the weapons from the first game are back and feeling great, but people will be most curious about the new stuff. The Javelin Gun (which fires something like electric railroad spikes) is amazing once you’ve upgraded it a bit. There’s a new sniper rifle-type weapon called the Seeker Rifle which I found to be the weakest new addition. Then there’s the Detonator. This thing lays down mines with laser tripwires. It’s probably my favorite gun in the game. If you recognize the hints of an upcoming ambush, it can save your life.
In the same fashion, suit progression is no longer a simple increase in stats. Each suit is a trade off. While they progressively gain more armor and inventory space, each suit has a special ability for Isaac. For example, the Vintage Suit gives him a discount at stores and the Hacker Suit makes hacking less painful. Therefore, you may often find yourself reverting back to older suits to complete a specific task (especially with the Vintage Suit and stores). It’s a nice mechanic and allows each of the suits to have a different visual style, which is cool.
You’ll need to take advantage of every new suit and weapon you can get your hands on, too, because DS2 is substantially more difficult than the first game. Ammo is in much, much shorter supply this time around, so using abilities like stasis and kinesis are much more emphasized than in DS1. It seems strange that Visceral made this change, which has its roots in old PS1 survival horror games, making the rest of the game much faster paced and action-oriented. With the number of enemies they throw at you near the end, I felt like maybe the low ammo mechanic was falling apart.
In the last couple chapters of the game, you’ve typically adjusted to the tense feeling of the fights and the idea of being low on ammo is no longer scary or stressful so much as it is frustrating. Not a huge deal, but it just seems like an odd clash of design decisions.
Dead Space 2 is an absolutely outstanding game. I loved every second of it and am likely to play through it two or three more times. The new game+ mode provides tons of replayability and I look forward to diving into it (or maybe, dare I say, hardcore mode). The game has a few odd quirks and some baffling design here and there, but it doesn’t bring down what is a great overall package. The Dead Space picked up on what RE4 started and will likely continue to hold the survival horror throne for quite a while.